My first memory of Portugal is actually of a person. Ricardo (I hope there’s no harm in using his real name) was my classmate in 7th Grade, which was probably my last year of innocence. (Not in the trivial sense, but rather in that life changed dramatically the year after that – as lives are wont to do around the age of 13 – and I had to start dealing with an abundance of issues.)
He was the one who taught me how to say “obrigada”, because I was already attempting to learn to say “thank you” in as many languages as I could remember. (You can never go wrong with a thank you. I remember being in Albania on business a couple of years ago, and unable to remember anything else in Albanian, said “thank you” when I shook people’s hands to meet them and exited establishments after meetings. It worked somehow.) He also told me that Spanish oranges were in fact Portuguese oranges that the Spanish imported from Portugal and then sold at a premium.
I liked Ricardo, and through him acquired a liking for his homeland, although I knew nothing yet of the rich Portuguese culture. He was a good friend and a cool guy, and he never made fun of me. In fact, sometime towards the end of 7th Grade, every single goddamn day, Ricardo would look at me with his Earl Grey coloured eyes, and plainly say: “Jay, you’re a very attractive girl.” He’d say it so very simply, as if he were commenting on how nice the day was or asking me if I’d done my homework. And he never followed up with a request for a dance at a party or a private audition at the cafeteria. (Most of his compliments were delivered in plain earshot of our classmates.) I never thought much of it. Every single day, I’d look right back at him, and just as plainly answer: “Thank you, Ricardo.”
It occurred to me only much, much later that perhaps Ricardo may have fancied me. But at the time I was – as I’ve already stated – innocent and also platonically (and quite hopelessly) pining after an Italian-American hunk called Joey (no harm in using his real name either, I guess) who had a crush on Pamela Anderson and whose single passion in life was basketball.
Ricardo and I both left the school at the end of that year, moving countries. And, this being the time before emails and mobile phones, didn’t exchange contacts. There was no need for or sense in it, really. Ricardo’s presence, though I missed him, was reduced to the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter.
I’ve long since stopped associating Portugal with my childhood friend, forgetting to think about him even during my recent trip to Lisbon. It was only after my return that his memory somehow snuck into my mind and reminded me of that time when my interest in this beautiful country was first sparked.
So, just in case – because sometimes the world is a golf ball – I would like to say: Thank you, Ricardo.